IN CONVERSATION | DENIM ARTIST- IAN BERRY

14.05.20

“It is cross collaboration that can make somewhere more than what it is; like it’s more than just studios, it’s more than spaces, it’s fostering a community spirit. It’s finding ways of adding value to a space.” -Ian Berry




Ian Berry is a textile artist working with denim to create intricate, full of depth works of art. At first glance many believe his works are blue toned photographs or indigo coloured oil paintings. His work has been seen in many countries and written about in major media in all corners of the globe. [ianberry.org]















What is your definition of studio space?

It’s a place where you can have your headspace and have the ability to bring all your ideas together and create them, hidden away from the world before you show them.

Collaborative communal studio spaces I’m sure you’ve had a few look at those are like on the rise within London. So do you believe this formula can work?

The reason I moved back to London from Sweden was because I had a space where I was very isolated and really alone in quite a small town and I craved to have people around me. I was looking for solutions and creative spaces, because I want to communicate and be around people. But because of the size of my studio needs, I had to find another solution because they were always too small. So I ended up finding this place in Poplar, which is actually now more of a residential place, but historically it was the first live/work building in the whole of London.

Some artists left and one of the founders is my neighbour  who’s 90 now. I’ve taken him under my wing during this time, bringing food and things. There’s not many artists left here. It’s really nice to have people who now work from home, some have families like I do so the children play together. And it’s nice to have people who understand what you’re doing, you know, they’re not nine to five workers, they understand you have to work really hard. Whereas where I worked before, I was around people who just worked for other people. And, you know, that can be really hard because they wonder why you can’t, you know, go out on a weekend or you can’t do this or that, because you’ve got a deadline.

But I do think cross-collaboration and being around people and having people to bounce ideas off and stuff is really important.

Do you believe that London has an impact on your art?

I’m originally from Yorkshire up in the North. I like quite big cities where there is a lot going on. I portray urban living in my work, so I often portray London, but was doing it from Sweden. But I feel like as an artist you need to live and work in what you’re portraying. And, you know, there are other layers of it; I wanted to come back and meet a lot of other artists and be within the community.

I do have a child in the family, so that makes it obviously a lot harder. Also my client base was in London and there is a big art market. There are a lot of galleries, my main gallery is here and I just found it easier. As far as my work goes, because there is so much art going on, a lot more people understand and  believe in art and can see the possibilities of it. They see the future in your work and not just as you are now. And the people understand that it is,I know it sounds really stupid, but they really understand that it is actually a career and a vocation, not just a hobby.

Would you ever consider moving out of London now?

I have to be honest, I have been. So when I moved back five years ago, most of the artists I knew at the time were moving down to Hastings, Birmingham, Berlin or back to Leeds etc. It will be interesting during this time what it will be like because the prices are going up and I know the feelings are not as good as it used to be. I’m in East London, very close to Hackney Wick, and now it’s just full of fancy apartments. 

I think a lot of the artists are having to move out because we can’t afford it, so the reason why a lot of the people moved into that kind of cool vibe culture disappears. Other people who want that, like the lawyers and everybody else, move in and then they start having families, and then they don’t want the noise around them. 

I have lived in many countries in Sweden, Sydney and Amsterdam, and in a lot of areas, the town encouraged artists to move in. I think it’s important for people to have spaces for artists to live amongst, because once they start leaving, the area becomes a lot less vibrant and the energy changes and you know, people’s ideas change.

Do you think it would impact your work if you were to move out of London?

It’s a balance because now in London, you’ve got the balance of paying the bills. I’ve got a ginormous rent here at the studio, so I’ve got to turn over a lot of money to actually make it. So whether that actually drives me forward because I’ve still got to pay the bills; like if I was back in Yorkshire I’d be a very rich man, and if I was back in Sweden I would be too, but would that make you take the foot off the pedal? 

This is actually an interesting point. I’ll admit I’ve not read the other ones because I didn’t want to repeat what other people said. I believe that answers your question, If you’re looking at other artists who are at the top of, you know, in London, you’re trying to raise your game to try and get along. So if you’re in a regional town somewhere and you’re the big fish in the small pond, then you start believing in yourself differently. You start to compare yourselves to local artists and not the top artists.

The flipside of that, you know, having money I could get more help with more assistants. I could focus a bit, go away and then come back to London and stay for a few weeks, in a hotel and it would still be cheaper than paying a mortgage in London. But I’ve always got that FOMO. There’s always exhibitions going on, and as I said with a family it’s very hard to do all those things. 

What do you think the future of studio space will look like?

I do believe because of people like you and the citizen council who know the value of artists, I think there will be areas that will arise. I do think that the way apartments are being built around certain laws that enforce affordable accommodation. And in London there’s often commercial properties at the base of like supermarkets, dentists, laundrettes and that kind of thing. I do wonder whether they might start trying to integrate studio spaces that actually have artists living amongst people and actually make a thing of that. I don’t know if that will be a possibility, but it would be nice to think that they would see the value of having artists live and work in those kinds of spaces.

Completely just off the top of my head, but anyway, it would be interesting because I think it’s important to get artists and people like that to actually live amongst other people.

How do you believe we can ensure artists stay in London in the future?

As a city, the obvious ones are grants, and even like tax breaks perhaps creatively. Having projects that actually link the artists to the community. Is there a link where they can get artists going into office spaces, public parking, council buildings, because often these places  are really  bleak and quite dull. There’s a way to get artists working, whether they’re involved in exhibitions or murals. Projects where artists can actually have walls, that exposure would be good for any artist. 

The issue  with a city like London is that it’s not home to a lot of people. I have lived in five countries now and I’m from Yorkshire and that’s where I feel will always be home. I’m in London now and I know more about what’s going on in my hometown. Yesterday I had a phone interview with a local paper there and I feel more connected to that than I do to say Poplar. I know the VP’s, I know the counsellors  back in my hometown, whereas I know nothing about it here.

And you know, that’s as much my fault, but is it something where the council can do things to actually make these artists, who most of them were not born in London, to make them feel like this is home? Even if it’s so they don’t swap to different boroughs, and mentally it feels like a big change. Like going from Leeds or Manchester- now that would be mentally a big change. So something that makes people feel part of the community and to make it more home, then the artist would feel more connected and loyal to the area and feel that there’s more opportunities for them there. 

How do you think artists can collaborate and communicate with developers in London to try to maintain that cultural community?

Again, it’s quite similar I think. A lot of developers will allocate an art budget to the entrance or to murals, and I think more developments should actually think about how to do that rather than it being an afterthought. 

I’ve always thought it would be interesting to mix artists with mathematicians and scientists because when you think about school education they are taught as very separate things. Science and math at school is often learning things to regurgitate rather than be creative. I think most mathematicians and scientists create all the stuff they do, you have to be creative to problem solve, and that in comparison is the artist’s mind. I do think there’s more of a crossover than people think. Sometimes if you just get a whole group of artists together, you get an echo chamber. I used to work in advertising and advertising people just do advertising for other people to win awards. Often forgetting the end consumer, they just end up creating clever visuals. And when artists are just amongst other artists, they too lose a sense of the real world.

Another community angle can be where people mix and meet each other a lot more and hopefully not see each other as competition. My ethos is that you’ve got to be allies with artists and not see each other as competition and support one another. I’m not a planner or a developer, but something which fosters that kind of mentality. It is cross collaboration that can make somewhere more than what it is; like it’s more than just studios, it’s more than spaces, it’s fostering a community spirit. It’s finding ways of adding value to a space.